I’ve been wanting to post here to tell everyone some of the great things that have been going on here in our mission. Not this last week, but the week before, we had a couples’ conference for all of the senior couples serving. Everyone came to Johannesburg for three days. We had training from President Poulsen, shared ideas amongst ourselves about the things we all are doing, received uplifting messages from the former president of the Zimbabwe mission and his wife, had dinner and a fireside with the Area President and his wife, and finished up by having a temple session together. It was a great three days, even though we came back to work with extra things piled up on our desks.
Saturday morning, the office couples along with about eight missionaries from the Soweto Zone and two elders still in the MTC had a street meeting in an open air market in Dobsonville. We sang hymns and four of the elders gave short presentations on the restoration, the Plan of Salvation, etc. We only got a few people to stop and listen to us, but we probably gave out 100 pass-along cards to folks in the market after we were through. What a great experience!
Today in our meetings, we heard from Elder Jackson Mkabela, one of the Area Seventy sustained just weeks ago in general conference. The brethren were especially blessed as the Elders’ Quorum President yielded the meeting to Elder Mkabela and he taught us some of the things he received in the training meetings that precede general conference. He has been a member for 17 years and about 8 weeks ago was released as president of the Soweto Stake. He is a powerful teacher and we were blessed to have this opportunity to hear him.
My favorite boss, George Sheppard, used to comment when he was having a tough day or we were behind in some important project, “Life is earnest, life is real!” Well, today, that is surely true. Right after our meetings were over at the Ennerdale Branch, we received word that our son-in-law, Gary Hatch, had died suddenly earlier in the morning. He is only 45 and has been an inspiration to me and to many others over the years. He has worked with countless scouts either as their scoutmaster or advisor to their Deacons’ Quorums. He was a counselor and then a Bishop for a BYU ward. He has influenced hundreds of students at ASU and BYU in his academic career. But most of all, he is AnneMarie’s husband and father to Aubrey, Carson and Maren. I will miss him greatly even though I know that we will hook up again in a few years when it is my turn to die.
I remember many years ago when AnneMarie broke her arm. I sat outside the treatment room while the doctors worked on her. She screamed in pain and I would have gladly traded places with her and taken the pain on myself. I cried like a baby that day. I have since remarked more than once that it is harder for me to see my children and grandchildren in pain than for me to go through it myself. This time the pain is greater than any experienced by my offspring to date and I still feel the same way. This pain in my heart is worse than any I have felt in a long time. I cried like a baby again today and probably will more than once in the future. This time, the whole thing is compounded by the distance between us. All those years ago, I could take her in my arms and comfort her but today and for several more months we are half a world apart.
I can totally relate to her pain, having lost my spouse nearly nine years ago. But more than that, I know the loneliness she faces. While the pain of the loneliness is not as acute as the death of a loved one, it goes on and on. It is an unwelcome companion and a reminder of the lost spouse every day. I will be praying earnestly for AnneMarie, Aubrey, Carson and Maren and I hope all who read this will find a place in their prayers for them, too.